Silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) growing near the Truckee River. Photo: Kelsey Fitzgerald.
- Leaves: Thick and silvery. Opposite leaf arrangement.
- Branches: Sturdy with large thorns.
- Flowers: Feb-April. Dense clusters of tiny yellow four-petaled blossoms.
- Male and female flowers are present on separate plants (dioecious).
- Fruit: July-Aug. Golden yellow to red berries present on female plants. Edible.
Dense, thorny thickets of silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) grow in scattered patches along the Truckee River from approximately the Reno elevation down to Pyramid lake. Silver buffaloberry flowers generally bloom before the leaves emerge — one of the first signs of spring along the Truckee. From February until April, look for tiny yellow blossoms growing in tight clusters on this shrub’s branches. By mid-summer, tiny edible berries ripen on female plants.
The Paiute name for this plant is “wea pu wi.” Its thorns were traditionally used for pins, and berries were eaten raw, dried, or made into jelly (Murphey 1959). Other Native American tribes whipped the berries of this plant with water to form a frothy drink. The berries can also be crushed and used as a liquid soap, or used in pies, jams, and jellies (Mozingo 1987; Vizgirdas & Rey-Visgirdas 2006).
Silver buffaloberry is eaten by mule deer and provides habitat for small mammals and birds. With a relatively shallow root system, this shrub helps to stabilize soils and prevent erosion in riparian areas. It is a nitrogen-fixer and resprouts well after fires (Esser 1995).
Silver buffaloberry can be confused with Russian olive, a small tree with similar leaves. On the buffaloberry, look for long needle-like thorns; on the Russian olive, look for reddish bark and olive-like fruit during certain times of year.
References & Links
Esser, Lora L. 1995. Shepherdia argentea. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Mozingo, H. N. 1987. Shrubs of the Great Basin: A Natural History. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press.
Murphey, E. V. 1959. Indian Uses of Native Plants. Fort Bragg, CA: Mendocino County Historical Society.
USDA. 2016. Shepherdia argentea: Silver buffaloberry. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Vizgirdas, R. S., & Rey-Visgirdas, E. M. 2006. Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada. Reno: University of Nevada Press.